Candy Moulton: With Joaquin Murieta story, author weaves entertaining tale from few facts
The legend of Joaquin Murieta is just that — a legend.
Therefore, it’s not easy to know what is truth. It is certain that Murieta migrated north from his native Mexico to California in pursuit of gold during the Gold Rush. There, Murieta encountered severe racism, and he and his wife may have been attacked.
New Mexico novelist Thomas D. Clagett takes those basic details and weaves a fast-paced story that concentrates on Murieta’s life after the attack and in the latter period of his bandit life. In the vein of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Murieta robbed from miners and the “gringos” of the California gold fields and may have shared plunder with other Mexicans then living in the area.
Murieta and his gang definitely robbed and stole horses. They also had a network of residents who aided them. He was likely “credited” with thefts and killings that he (and his gang) did not commit because it was a tumultuous time and there were at least for or five other bandits named Joaquin. Sorting out which of them did any particular deed is next to impossible.
Taking the seeds of that story, Clagett centers his book on the final months of Joaquin’s years in California, a period when the California Rangers set out to capture him — working for a significant reward and a few bragging rights.
The fact that Clagett decided to concentrate the story on not the full depth of Joaquin Murieta’s life, but on that documented historical period when the Rangers were seeking to earn a $1,000 award for his capture, makes this a concentrated story.
I suppose hard-core historians might say the author has taken a lot of license with the facts, but this is a novel, so that is exactly what he should have done.
There is enough detail to make it clear this is based on at least one set of “facts” and a good helping of strong character development to make it a good read.
This is Clagett’s first novel, and it is strongly written. ❖
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